Floods kill 113 in north India in late monsoon burst, jail, hospital submerged

By Saurabh Sharma

LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) – Heavy rains have killed at least 113 people in India’s Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states over the past three days, officials said on Monday, as floodwaters swamped a major city, inundated hospital wards and forced the evacuation of inmates from a jail.

India’s monsoon season that begins in June usually starts to retreat by early September, but heavy rains have continued across parts of the country this year, triggering floods.

An official said that at least 93 people had died in most populous Uttar Pradesh since Friday after its eastern areas were lashed by intense monsoon showers.

Rising water levels forced authorities to shift 900 inmates from a prison in eastern Ballia district, police officer Santosh Verma said.

In neighboring Bihar, an impoverished agrarian region that was hit by floods earlier this year, the death toll from the latest bout of rain had reached 20 on Monday, a state government official said.

Bihar’s capital city of Patna, home to around 2 million, has been badly hit, with waist-deep floodwaters across many streets, and entering homes, shops, and even the wards of a major hospital. In some parts, authorities deployed boats to rescue residents.

“The rains have stopped but there is waterlogging in many areas,” Bihar’s Additional Secretary in the Disaster Relief Department Amod Kumar Sharan said.

In its bulletin on Monday, India’s Meteorological Department said the intensity of rainfall over Bihar was very likely to reduce. Showers in Uttar Pradesh are also expected to abate this week.

Weather department officials said this month that monsoon rains were likely to be above average for the first time in six years.

(Reporting by Saurabh Sharma in LUCKNOW; Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Alison Williams)

Torrential Imelda rains kill 2, flood homes, snarl travel around Houston

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Imelda dumped torrential rains over the Houston-area, killing at least two people, while rescuers in boats pulled hundreds from flooded cars, the airport temporarily halted flights and tens of thousands of people lost power.

Heavy rains had abated by Thursday evening, although flash flood watches remained in effect through Friday morning and rescuers were still working to reach stranded motorists and those trapped in homes late into the night as floodwaters were slow to drain off.

The National Hurricane Center said in a late Thursday bulletin that up to 45 inches of rain will have fallen in some areas by the time the storm blows off on Friday afternoon.

Ed Gonzalez, sheriff for Harris County, which includes Houston, confirmed the second death from the storm.

He tweeted on Thursday that he was at the scene where first-responders tried to save a man who had driven his white van headlong into deep waters.

“The water level was about 8′ (8 feet) high,” Gonzalez wrote, describing the incident. “The driver paused briefly, then accelerated into it the water, causing his van to go under.”

Gonzalez said the man driving the van was pulled from the vehicle after some 20 minutes underwater and was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

The other victim of the storm was electrocuted southeast of Houston while trying to move his horse to safety, according to a statement on the Facebook page of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. No other details were provided.

George Bush Intercontinental Airport halted all flights for about two hours, and Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster covering more than a dozen counties.

Hundreds of motorists were stranded in their vehicles as some of Houston’s main roadways flooded, submerging cars. Firefighters, police and ordinary citizens were out in boats and all-terrain vehicles to pick up people trapped in their homes by the rising waters.

The storm knocked out power to around 100,000 people in Houston and southeast Texas, according to reports from energy companies, while work at oil refineries in the area was slowed or halted.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city was better prepared to rescue stranded residents and deal with flooding than when Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017, leading to dozens of deaths in Houston and billions of dollars in damage.

The small town of Winnie, about 60 miles (100 km) east of Houston, was also badly hit. Officials there evacuated Riceland Hospital and tried to rescue people marooned in their vehicles after roads turned into lakes.

Parts of Interstate 10, a major east-west highway, were closed near Winnie.

Imelda made landfall as a tropical storm near Freeport, Texas, on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Gary McWilliams in Houston, Jonathan Allen in New York, Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas, and Liz Hampton in Denver; Editing by Scott Malone, David Gregorio and Tom Hogue)

Torrential Imelda rains kill 2, flood homes, snarl travel around Houston

A car passes through a flooded street as storm Imelda hits Houston, Texas, U.S., September 19, 2019 in this screen grab obtained from social media video. @kingjames.daniel/via REUTERS

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Imelda dumped torrential rains over the Houston-area, killing at least two people, while rescuers in boats pulled hundreds from flooded cars, the airport temporarily halted flights and tens of thousands of people lost power.

Heavy rains had abated by Thursday evening, although flash flood watches remained in effect through Friday morning and rescuers were still working to reach stranded motorists and those trapped in homes late into the night as floodwaters were slow to drain off.

The National Hurricane Center said in a late Thursday bulletin that up to 45 inches of rain will have fallen in some areas by the time the storm blows off on Friday afternoon.

Ed Gonzalez, sheriff for Harris County, which includes Houston, confirmed the second death from the storm.

He tweeted on Thursday that he was at the scene where first-responders tried to save a man who had driven his white van headlong into deep waters.

“The water level was about 8′ (8 feet) high,” Gonzalez wrote, describing the incident. “The driver paused briefly, then accelerated into it the water, causing his van to go under.”

Gonzalez said the man driving the van was pulled from the vehicle after some 20 minutes underwater and was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

The other victim of the storm was electrocuted southeast of Houston while trying to move his horse to safety, according to a statement on the Facebook page of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. No other details were provided.

George Bush Intercontinental Airport halted all flights for about two hours, and Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster covering more than a dozen counties.

Hundreds of motorists were stranded in their vehicles as some of Houston’s main roadways flooded, submerging cars. Firefighters, police and ordinary citizens were out in boats and all-terrain vehicles to pick up people trapped in their homes by the rising waters.

The storm knocked out power to around 100,000 people in Houston and southeast Texas, according to reports from energy companies, while work at oil refineries in the area was slowed or halted.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city was better prepared to rescue stranded residents and deal with flooding than when Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017, leading to dozens of deaths in Houston and billions of dollars in damage.

The small town of Winnie, about 60 miles (100 km) east of Houston, was also badly hit. Officials there evacuated Riceland Hospital and tried to rescue people marooned in their vehicles after roads turned into lakes.

Parts of Interstate 10, a major east-west highway, were closed near Winnie.

Imelda made landfall as a tropical storm near Freeport, Texas, on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Gary McWilliams in Houston, Jonathan Allen in New York, Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas, and Liz Hampton in Denver; Editing by Scott Malone, David Gregorio and Tom Hogue)

Four people killed, thousands evacuated as floods hit southeast Spain

By Jon Nazca and Marco Trujillo

PILAR DE LA HORADADA/ORIHUELA, Spain (Reuters) – Four people have been killed and over 1,500 evacuated in two days of torrential rains in southeastern Spain, with many roads, train networks and an airport closed on Friday and emergency services rescuing people stuck in flooded highway tunnels.

Floods swept away cars and debris in the regions of Valencia, Murcia and eastern Andalucia. Motorway tunnels in some areas were flooded almost up to the tunnel lighting, with some vehicles partly or fully submerged.

A man was found dead in Granada province on Friday after his car was swept off a motorway and another died in Almeria after trying to drive through a flooded tunnel, rescue services said. Two siblings died on Thursday when torrential rain dragged their car away.

A total of 74 roads were closed, as was the whole Murcia regional railway service, and the Murcia airport. The railway link between Alicante and Spain’s two main cities – Madrid and Barcelona – was shut, acting Interior Minister Fernando Grande Marlaska said.

Some affected areas saw record daily rainfall for the month of September.

“The situation is critical, all the municipality is full of water,” Mario Cervera, mayor of the town of Alcazares, one of the most affected in Murcia, told Spain’s state-run TVE channel.

Rescue workers were using a helicopter and boats in various areas, he said.

“This man was holding onto a traffic sign… the officer and I jumped to take him out,” one emergency worker told Reuters.

In addition to people already evacuated, some 2,000 residents of the town of Santomera in Murcia were being removed from their homes due to a planned controlled release from a local dam to avoid its overflowing, the interior minister said.

“The forecasts do not point to a worsening of the situation, but we have to be cautious,” he told reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting before heading to the affected areas.

The rain appeared to be easing but rivers were still at risk of overflowing, including the Segura, which has already flooded the town of Orihuela in Alicante and could flood in the city of Murcia, the local water management authority said.

Authorities have recommended citizens stay at home in the affected areas and avoid using their cars.

Tourists were left stranded in Alicante airport as many flights were delayed or canceled.

“We’ve been in the queue here four or five hours, it’s very difficult to get to the toilet, impossible to get anything to eat,” Haydn Harding, a 78-year old diabetic tourist from Northern Ireland, said at the airport.

(Additional reporting by Jose Rodriguez, Paola Luelmo, Emma Pinedo and Jesus Aguado; Writing by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Frances Kerry)

India floods kill more than 270, displace one million

FILE PHOTO: Rescuers remove debris as they search for victims of a landslide caused by torrential monsoon rains in Meppadi in Wayanad district in the southern Indian state of Kerala, India, August 10, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

By Gopakumar Warrier and Rajendra Jadhav

BENGALURU/MUMBAI (Reuters) – Floods and landslides have killed more than 270 people in India this month, displaced one million and inundated thousands of homes across six states, authorities said on Wednesday after two weeks of heavy monsoon rains.

The rains from June to September are a lifeline for rural India, delivering some 70% of the country’s rainfall, but they also cause death and destruction each year.

The southern states of Kerala and Karnataka, and Maharashtra and Gujarat in the west, were among the hardest hit by floods that washed away thousands of hectares of summer-sown crops and damaged roads and rail lines.

At least 95 people were killed and more than 50 are missing in Kerala, where heavy rainfall triggered dozens of landslides last week and trapped more than 100 people.

About 190,000 people are still living in relief camps in the state, said Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, but he added some people are returning home as floodwaters recede.

In neighboring Karnataka, home to the technology hub Bengaluru, 54 people died and 15 are missing after rivers burst their banks when authorities released water from dams.

Nearly 700,000 people have been evacuated in the state.

Heavy rainfall is expected in parts of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat, as well as the central state of Madhya Pradesh, in the next two days, weather officials said.

In Maharashtra, which includes the financial capital Mumbai, 48 people died but floodwaters are receding, said a state official.

“We are now trying to restore electricity and drinking water supplies,” he said.

In Madhya Pradesh, the biggest producer of soybeans, heavy rains killed 32 people and damaged crops, authorities said.

In Gujarat, 31 people died in rain-related incidents, while landslides killed nearly a dozen people in the northern hilly state of Uttarakhand.

(Reporting by Gopakumar Warrier and Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Euan Rocha and Darren Schuettler)

Floods in India kill 33, displace thousands

Members of a rescue team wade through a water-logged area during heavy rains on the outskirts of Kochi in the southern state of Kerala, India, August 8, 2019. REUTERS/Sivaram V

By Rajendra Jadhav and Derek Francis

MUMBAI/BENGALURU (Reuters) – Floods brought by heavy rains and overflowing rivers across large swathes of western and southern India have killed at least 33 people and forced the evacuation of 180,000 from their homes, officials said on Thursday.

Seasonal monsoon rains from June to September cause deaths and mass displacement across South Asia every year, but they deliver more than 70% of India’s rainfall, crucial for farm output and economic growth.

The tally of dead in the floods was 25 in the western state of Maharashtra by Thursday, officials said, while government data in the neighboring southern state of Karnataka showed eight dead.

Rivers burst their banks in some parts of Maharashtra after authorities released water from dams brimming with as much as 670 mm (26.4 inches) of rain received in a week.

“If we get more rainfall, then we have no option but to release water in rivers,” said administrative official Deepak Mhaisekar, adding that many reservoirs around the state’s industrial city of Pune were full.

A boat full of villagers trying to escape the floods capsized on Thursday, killing at least 9 people, with rescuers searching for three or four still feared missing, he added.

Thousands of trucks were stuck on a national highway linking the financial capital of Mumbai with the southern technology hub of Bengaluru, as waters submerged the road in some places, Mhaisekar said.

In Karnataka, officials said some major reservoirs were nearly full, and warned that nearby villages could be hit by large discharges of water.

“We have sought help from the central government to rescue any people who may get stranded because of the floods,” Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa told media.

Temples and electric poles were underwater as the floods flowed unabated, in video images posted by a journalist in a northern district of Karnataka.

Weather officials have forecast heavy rain in the region, including the nearby states of Kerala and Goa, over the next three to five days.

Kerala weather officials called a “red alert” in four districts they saw at risk of receiving more than 200 mm (8 inches) of rain on Thursday.

Schools and colleges in many places have been shut since Monday and are unlikely to open this week, authorities have said.

(Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav in Mumbai and Derek Francis in Bengaluru; Editing by Euan Rocha and Hugh Lawson)

Floods stall fertilizer shipments in latest blow to U.S. farmers

FILE PHOTO: The contents of grain silos which burst from flood damage are shown in Fremont County Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek

By Karl Plume

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Farm supplier CHS Inc has dozens of loaded barges trapped on the flood-swollen Mississippi River near St. Louis – about 500 miles from the company’s two Minnesota distribution hubs.

The barges can’t move – or get crucial nutrients to corn farmers for the spring planting season – because river locks on the main U.S. artery for grain and fertilizer have been shuttered for weeks. High water presents a hazard for boats, barges and lock equipment.

Railroads have also been plagued by delays from winter weather and flooding in the western Midwest, further disrupting agricultural supply chains in the nation’s breadbasket.

FILE PHOTO: Flood damage is shown in this aerial photo in southwestern Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Flood damage is shown in this aerial photo in southwestern Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek/File Photo

The transportation woes are the latest headache for a U.S. agricultural sector reeling from years of slumping profits and the U.S.-China trade war, and they threaten to cut the number of acres of corn and wheat that can be planted this year.

The shipping delays follow months of bad weather in the rural Midwest, including a “bomb cyclone” that flooded at least 1 million acres (405,000 hectares) of farmland last month and a record-breaking April snow storm.

“Our barges are a long way from where we need them in the upper Midwest,” said Gary Halvorson, senior vice president of agronomy at CHS. “We really don’t think that any rail line will be at their preferred service rate until summer.”

Agricultural retailers rely on barges and trains to resupply distribution warehouses across the farm belt. But river flooding has delayed the seasonal reopening of the northern reaches of the Mississippi River to barge traffic. The latest National Weather Service river forecasts suggest one of the river’s southernmost locks could remain closed until at least the first week of May.

FALLING PROFITS, PRODUCTION

Reduced or poorly timed fertilizer applications can hurt yields, potentially denting this year’s U.S. farm profits, which are already predicted to be about half of their 2013 peak, according to the latest U.S. government forecast. Delayed shipments can also mean lost sales for farm suppliers and higher demurrage penalties, or late-return charges, on stalled barges and rail cars.

CHS, one of the largest publicly traded U.S. agriculture suppliers, said this month cited poor weather as a key reason for a $8.9 million drop in agricultural profits during its fiscal second quarter.

Agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland Co said severe weather and flooding would cut its first-quarter profit by $50 million to $60 million while DowDuPont said flooding would slash first-quarter profits in its agriculture division by 25 percent.

Fertilizer producers such as Nutrien Ltd, Mosaic Co and Yara International also lost sales due to bad weather in the fourth quarter of last year and first quarter of this year. Mosaic announced last month that it would cut U.S. phosphate fertilizer production by 300,000 tonnes for the spring season due to poor weather and large inventories left over from the fall.

Farm retailers such as CHS and privately held Growmark may see additional losses through the spring season as the tighter planting window limits the application services they provide, according to CoBank analyst Will Secor.

SCRAMBLING TO PROTECT CROP YIELDS

Farmers are not expected to skip nitrogen fertilizer applications entirely, which would cause yields to drop by about half, according to Purdue University agronomist Bob Nielsen. But higher nutrient costs could have growers applying less-than-optimal amounts.

Some farmers could shift from corn to soybeans, which can be planted later and require fewer fertilizer applications. But soybeans will continue to face uncertain demand as long as the U.S. and top buyer China remain locked in a trade war.

“Right now my plan is to plant more corn because the price of beans is so low,” said Don Batie, a farmer near Lexington, Nebraska.

The weather problems started last autumn, a period when some farmers treat fields after harvesting in preparation for the following spring. But wet weather prevented fall fertilizer applications, and an exceptionally snowy winter in many areas slowed or halted winter field work.

More recent storms have threatened to narrow the limited spring window for field treatments.

“When you add to it this re-supply constraint of not being able to move barges up the Mississippi, it puts us in a precarious position,” said Kreg Ruhl, manager for crop nutrients division at Growmark, the country’s third-largest agriculture retailer in terms of revenue.

PRICES RISING

Retail fertilizer prices have started rising in parts of the Midwest and are likely to rise further as local supplies are depleted and retailers scramble to resupply.

In Iowa, the top U.S. corn producing state, the price of the common fertilizer urea was up 20 percent in late April from a year ago, and anhydrous ammonia was up 27 percent. Both hit their highest early spring levels in three years, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Without timely barge deliveries, CHS will lean on its rail network that brings imported supplies from Galveston, Texas, to any of the 29 rail hubs it owns in places like Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Marshall, Minnesota; and Minot, North Dakota.

Higher U.S. fertilizer prices and strong demand from other countries could help producers such as Nutrien, Mosaic and Yara recover some recent profit weakness in upcoming quarters.

For farmers and fertilizer retailers, however, uncertain fertilizer deliveries will likely weigh on agricultural markets through the planting season.

“We’re doing our very best to make sure that our retail network is supplied,” said CHS’s Halvorson.

(Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago Editing by Brian Thevenot and Caroline Stauffer)

After Cyclone Idai, thousands still cut off, many more in need: aid agencies

FILE PHOTO: Women wait to receive aid at a camp for the people displaced in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai in John Segredo near Beira, Mozambique March 31, 2019. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – One month after Cyclone Idai tore through southern Africa bringing devastating floods, aid agencies say the situation remains critical with some communities in worst-hit Mozambique only just being reached with aid.

The storm made landfall in Mozambique on March 14, flattening the port city of Beira before moving inland to batter Malawi and Zimbabwe.

It heaped rain on the region’s highlands that then flowed back into Mozambique, leaving an area the size of Luxembourg under water. More than 1,000 people died across the three countries, and the World Bank has estimated more than $2 billion will be needed for them to recover.

FILE PHOTO: Survivors of cyclone Idai arrive at Coppa business centre to receive aid in Chipinge, Zimbabwe, March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo/File Photo

Over the weekend, aid agencies said thousands of people were still completely cut off and warned of the potential for a catastrophic hunger crisis to take hold, especially as aid appeals went largely underfunded.

Dorothy Sang, Oxfam’s humanitarian advocacy manager, said an aid drop was being planned for an isolated area where just last week 2,000 people were found for the first time since the storm. They had been surviving on coconuts, dates and small fish they could catch.

Oxfam estimates there are 4,000 people still cut off. Sang added that while often these weren’t the worst-hit by the disaster, they were already living in chronic poverty and now face huge challenges to survive.

“They risk becoming utterly forgotten,” she said.

On Sunday, Care International said the destruction of crops would compound existing food security problems across the region, and called on donors to find additional funds for the response.

Mozambique’s $337 million humanitarian response plan, largely made up of an appeal for $281 million after the cyclone hit, remained only 23 percent funded on Monday.

The United Nations has also requested $294 million for Zimbabwe, an appeal currently 11 percent funded. The government has separately asked for $613 million to help with the humanitarian crisis.

Meanwhile, U.N. children’s agency Unicef warned at least 1.6 million children need some kind of urgent assistance, from healthcare to education, across all three countries. Save the Children also said many are traumatized after witnessing the death and destruction wrought by the storm.

Machiel Pouw, Save the Children’s response team leader, said children and their families needed long-term help to recover.

“After a disaster of this scale, the world must not look away.”

(Reporting by Emma Rumney; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

U.S. disaster aid won’t cover crops drowned by Midwest floods

The contents of a grain silo which burst from flood damage is shown in Crescent, Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. Photo taken March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek

By Tom Polansek

MALVERN, Iowa (Reuters) – The Black Hawk military helicopter flew over Iowa, giving a senior U.S. agriculture official and U.S. senator an eyeful of the flood damage below, where yellow corn from ruptured metal silos spilled out into the muddy water.

And there’s nothing the U.S. government can do about the millions of bushels of damaged crops here under current laws or disaster-aid programs, U.S. Agriculture Under Secretary Bill Northey told a Reuters reporter who joined the flight.

U.S. Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa and USDA Under Secretary Bill Northey speak before boarding a helicopter to view flood damage, in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., March 29, 2019. Photo taken March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek

U.S. Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa and USDA Under Secretary Bill Northey speak before boarding a helicopter to view flood damage, in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., March 29, 2019. Photo taken March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek

The USDA has no mechanism to compensate farmers for damaged crops in storage, Northey said, a problem never before seen on this scale. That’s in part because U.S. farmers have never stored so much of their harvests, after years of oversupplied markets, low prices and the latest blow of lost sales from the U.S. trade war with China – previously their biggest buyer of soybean exports.

The USDA last year made $12 billion in aid available to farmers who suffered trade-war losses, without needing Congressional approval. The agency has separate programs that partially cover losses from cattle killed in natural disasters, compensate farmers who cannot plant crops due to weather, and help them remove debris left in fields after floods.

But it has no program to cover the catastrophic and largely uninsured stored-crop losses from the widespread flooding, triggered by the “bomb cyclone” that hit the region in mid-March. Congress would have to pass legislation to address the harvests lost in the storm, according to Northey and a USDA statement to Reuters.

Flood damage is shown in this aerial photo in Percival, Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. Photo taken March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek

Flood damage is shown in this aerial photo in Percival, Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. Photo taken March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek

“It’s not traditionally been covered,” he said. “But we’ve not usually had as many losses.”

Indigo Ag, an agriculture technology company, identified 832 on-farm storage bins within flooded Midwest areas. They hold an estimated 5 million to 10 million bushels of corn and soybeans – worth between $17.3 million to $34.6 million – that could have been damaged in the floods, the company told Reuters.

Across the United States, farmers held soybean stocks of 2.716 billion bushels as of March 1, the largest on record for the time period, the USDA said on Friday. Corn stocks were the third-largest on record.

Some Congress members have expressed interest in pursuing legislation to provide aid for damaged crops in storage, Northey said. But passing legislation could require a lengthy political process in the face of an urgent disaster, U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley told farmers at a meeting in Malvern, Iowa.

“If we have to pass a bill to do it, I hate to tell you how long that takes,” said the senator from Iowa, who joined Northey on the helicopter tour.

With farm incomes declining for years before the flood, many farmers had planned to sell their grain in storage for money to live, pay their taxes or finance operations, including planting this spring.

The contents of grain silos which burst from flood damage are shown in Fremont County Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. Photo taken March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek

The contents of grain silos which burst from flood damage are shown in Fremont County Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. Photo taken March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek

THROWING AWAY CROPS

From the helicopter, piloted by National Guard members, officials surveyed miles of flooded fields in Iowa, littered with lawn chairs, fuel tanks, furniture, tires and other flood debris.

Farmers will have to destroy any grains that were contaminated by floodwater, which could also prevent some growers from planting oversaturated fields.

Near Crescent, Iowa, farmer Don Rief said the flood damaged more than 60,000 bushels of his grain, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. He tried to move the crops before the flood, but dirt roads were too soft from the storm to support trucks.

“We were just hurrying like hell,” Rief said. “Hopefully USDA will come in and minimize some of the damage.”

The USDA does not have a program that covers flood-damaged grain because farmers have typically received more advance notice of rising waters, allowing them to move crops and limit losses, said Tom Vilsack, who ran the agency under former President Barack Obama.

In this case, floods inundated fields quickly after multiple levees failed when rain and melting snow filled the Missouri River and other waterways. The frozen ground was unable to soak up the water.

Near Percival, Iowa, railroad tracks leading up to a grain facility were flooded and broken. A Deere Co dealership, Wendy’s restaurant, Motel 6 and gas station nearby were also underwater, along with homes, cars and farm equipment.

Some farmers moved machinery such as tractors on to highways to keep it out of the path of the floods. The equipment was still parked there during the flyover on Friday.

DISASTER RELIEF ‘GAP’

About 416,000 acres of cropland across six counties in Iowa were flooded, said Amanda De Jong, state executive director for the USDA Iowa Farm Service Agency.

Of that, about 309,000 acres will be eligible for the federal program that helps farmers and ranchers remove debris left by natural disasters on farmlands, De Jong said last week. She estimated the program would need about $34 million to clean up the fields.

Iowa’s agriculture secretary Mike Naig said the U.S. government also should help compensate farmers for some of the grain that was damaged.

“This is clearly a gap that we think needs to be addressed,” said Naig, who accompanied Grassley and Northey in the chopper.

Time is short for a solution, said Carol Vinton, supervisor of Mills County, Iowa, one of the state’s two most heavily damaged counties.

Vinton said she was getting calls from farmers whose grain was damaged and are worried about making good on previously signed contracts to deliver those crops to elevators.

The USDA wants to do everything it can to help farmers hurt by the disaster, Northey said.

“They spent all last year raising that crop, putting it in the bin and they maybe already have it marketed,” he said. “And now they’re going to have to spend time just to get rid of it – just to clean the place up.”

(Reporting by Tom Polansek in Malvern, Iowa. Additional reporting by Mark Weinraub in Chicago; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Brian Thevenot)

After devastating flooding, U.S. Midwest farms need more than ‘paper towels’ to recover

A combination of aerial photos show the farm of Richard Oswald near Langdon, Missouri after flooding March 20, 2019 and in the fall of 2018 at right. Courtesy of Richard Oswald/Handout via REUTERS.

By Andrew Hay

(Reuters) – Missouri farmer Richard Oswald needs a lot of help to recover from flooding that left his home and farm looking like a manmade island in an inland sea.

Relief groups are giving tetanus shots and handing out free meals and cleaning supplies near his farm in the Langdon-Rock Port area, about 100 miles (161 km) northwest of Kansas City. But what Oswald really needs is money.

Hit by the worst flooding in living memory, he and thousands of other farmers along the Missouri River will each require hundreds of thousands of dollars in disaster funds or loans to start over.

“The typical response on flood relief is groups like the Red Cross show up with paper towels and rubber gloves and scrub buckets,” said Oswald, 69, who does not expect to be able to get to his home or land for weeks. “The biggest thing farmers need is cash, or ways to access funds.”

‘BOUNCE BACK’

Slammed by a trade war and low commodity prices, Midwest family farms have been in the red and in decline for the last five years. The number of U.S farms fell by 100,000 between 2010 and 2017, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data.

Thousands more will now go under without emergency financial support for flooding, pummeling heartland economies almost entirely dependent on agriculture, farmers and aid groups said.

It is a call federal and state agencies, as well as non-governmental and faith-based relief groups are answering.

President Donald Trump has approved disaster declarations for Nebraska and Iowa, making federal disaster funding available in flood-hit areas. Missouri Governor Mike Parson declared a state of emergency, paving the way for similar actions in his state.

“I know we aim for bringing everything back up to where it was,” said Rosalynn Days-Austin, a USDA emergency coordinator helping direct Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) efforts in flood-affected areas. “Sometimes that’s not always possible, for a variety of reasons, but the goal is definitely to help them bounce back from their loss.”

CASH PREFERRED

Relief groups like Farm Aid are tending to the immediate needs of farmers, distributing tens of thousands of dollars in “emergency grants” – $500 gifts from cash donations that help families pay for things like groceries. After that, the group and its partners advise farming families on how to access federal disaster funds they hope are coming soon.

“What we’re hearing, because of the snowpack and rain and the wet ground, is that farmers are going to be dealing with this throughout the spring. So we’re in it for the long haul,” said Jennifer Fahy, a spokeswoman for the group established by country singer and activist Willie Nelson.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is coordinating a long-term response to get displaced families housed, navigate the red tape of insurance companies and federal agencies and tend to the mental health needs of people who have suffered extreme trauma, said Bishop Brian Maas.

“We have national partners and coalitions within the state,” said Maas, who is asking people to hold off donating more material goods, for now. “There will be stresses because we’ve not done anything of this magnitude.

“Now we have mountains of cleaning supplies and so forth that can’t be used,” Maas said, appealing to people to get back in touch in a month to see how they can donate then. “Cash is the most flexible way to respond.”

‘FEMA IS WORTHLESS’

Another immediate need is feed for livestock.

Relief organization Farm Rescue is collecting donations of hay in the Dakotas and trucking it to farmers whose cattle are starving after their feed stands were submerged in floodwater.

“I don’t know of anything this widespread that has ever affected so many people in our service area,” said Dan Erdmann, a spokesman for the group which helps family farms get through crises ranging from natural disasters to medical emergencies.

Farmworkers, some of them undocumented and legal migrants, have been hit hard. Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska is looking at housing assistance for displaced people who previously paid around $300 a month rent and now face rents triple that due to a dearth in properties, said Stacy Martin, chief executive of the social services charity.

While relief groups tend to urgent needs, farmers like Scott Olson say more federal relief money is needed at a time when low crop prices and high debt levels are limiting farmers’ access to credit. He is counting on a farm relief bill in Congress for extra disaster compensation after he successfully lobbied in Washington for similar funds following 2011 flooding.

“Flood insurance isn’t going to cover this worth a darn. FEMA is worthless,” said Olson, who farms 3,000 acres near Tekamah, Nebraska and runs a farm equipment business. “They don’t have any money, nobody has any money.”

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Additional reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago; editing by Bill Tarrant and Lisa Shumaker)